Michigan State Football: Spartans worthy of No. 2 ranking?


Sitting at No. 2 in the AP poll, Michigan State football is experiencing success not seen since 1966 when it was a national powerhouse.

Must Read: Big Ten Football Game by Game Predictions: Week 4

To the casual football fan, this Spartan squad has the pieces necessary to find itself positioned in the top-five. For the 12th game in a row, Michigan State has scored at least 30 points, adding on to an all-time record streak.

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Connor Cook, now tied with Kirk Cousins for the most wins in program history, has been mentioned as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy and is considered by many experts to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. However, these last two weeks may have been disheartening for the Spartan faithful.

On a national level, a 35-21 victory over the always dangerous Air Force Falcons and 30-10 scoreline against in-state Central Michigan represent expected wins by a top-five team.

Spartan fans, however, may not share the same opinion as national viewers. Against Air Force, Michigan State was out-gained by over 100 yards and the secondary allowed an inconsistent passing attack to rack up 149 passing yards on only six completions.

To make matters worse, on almost all of those completions, no Spartan defensive back was remotely close to a Falcons receiver. The front-seven was gashed for 279 yards on an unimpressive 5.5 yards per carry. Air Force had a ton of success running outside and the defense was unable to make adjustments.

Sep 26, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Central Michigan Chippewas wide receiver Anthony Rice (80) runs for yards after a catch against Michigan State Spartans safety Montae Nicholson (9) during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 30-10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Against Central, the secondary continued to struggle against a second MAC opponent this year. Cooper Rush completed 66 percent of his passes for 285 yards and a touchdown, and again, the secondary was exposed.

If you remove a 42 yard run by Devon Spalding, where two Spartan defensive backs missed tackles at the line of scrimmage, the rush defense performed much better against a conventional offense.

Through four games, the “vaunted” Michigan State defense is putting up far from spectacular numbers. Opposing teams are averaging 276 yards through the air and 118 on the ground –good for 394 total yards– and an average of almost 21 points per game. For a secondary once nicknamed the “No Fly Zone”, the current back-four is not fulfilling that moniker.

On the other side of the ball, the Spartans’ offense struggled during non-conference action. The last two weeks, the offense recorded back-to-back 324 yard performances. Coming into the season, many experts expected the offense to carry this team; so far, that is far from the case.

The one saving grace for the Spartans this year is turnover margin. Once again, Connor Cook has done a good job protecting the ball, only throwing one interception thus far. The defense has been opportunistic this year, capitalizing on opponent’s errors and adding points to the scoreboard.

Sep 19, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) celebrates win over Air Force Falcons after a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Although the offense and defense have not been performing well, the turnover margin is a major reason the Spartans are 4-0. Additionally, Jake Hartbarger has more than adequately filled in for Mike Sadler, showing off an enormous leg on various occasions.

Heading into Big Ten play, Michigan State may have more questions now than they did beginning this season. This week, Jack Conklin and R.J. Williamson left the game with injuries. Although Michigan State has depth along the offensive line, it certainly is not easy to replace both tackles.

In the offseason, the secondary was a major concern for the team and it is now apparent that that position group is a major issue for the team. Williamson, the one player with substantial experience, could potentially miss time with an undisclosed injury.

After Vayante Copeland went down, Arjen Colquhoun, Jermaine Edmondson and Darian Hicks have all had opportunities to win the starting job; none of them have looked serviceable. Is it time for younger players to burn their redshirts and get a chance?

For a fan base that went through some difficult times prior to Mark Dantonio, maybe these results are aberrations and fans are simply overreacting. However, there are certainly major issue areas that need to be addressed if this team wants to make a run at a playoff spot.

Next: Central Michigan vs. MSU: Highlights, official thread

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